Verse > Harvard Classics > Dante Alighieri > The Divine Comedy
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Purgatory
 
Canto XXVIII
 
 
ARGUMENT.—Dante wanders through the forest of the terrestrial Paradise, till he is stopped by a stream, on the other side of which he beholds a fair lady, culling flowers. He speaks to her; and she, in reply, explains to him certain things touching the nature of that place, and tells that the water, which flows between them, is here called Lethe, and in another place has the name of Eunoe.
 
 
THROUGH that celestial forest, whose thick shade
With lively greenness the new-springing day
Attemper’d, eager now to roam, and search
Its limits round, forthwith I left the bank;
Along the champain leisurely my way        5
Pursuing, o’er the ground, that on all sides
Delicious odour breathed. A pleasant air,
That intermitted never, never veer’d,
Smote on my temples, gently, as a wind
Of softest influence: at which the sprays,        10
Obedient all, lean’d trembling to that part 1
Where first the holy mountain casts his shade;
Yet were not so disorder’d, but that still
Upon their top the feather’d quiristers
Applied their wonted art, and with full joy        15
Welcomed those hours of prime, and warbled shrill
Amid the leaves, that to their jocund lays
Kept tenour; even as from branch to branch,
Along the piny forests on the shore
Of Chiassi, rolls the gathering melody,        20
When Eolus hath from his cavern loosed
The dripping south. Already had my steps,
Though slow, so far into that ancient wood
Transported me, I could not ken the place
Where I had enter’d; when, behold! my path        25
Was bounded by a rill, which, to the left,
With little rippling waters bent the grass
That issued from its brink. On earth no wave
How clean soe’er, that would not seem to have
Some mixture in itself, compared with this,        30
Transpicuous clear; yet darkly on it roll’d,
Darkly beneath perpetual gloom, which ne’er
Admits or sun or moon-light there to shine.
  My feet advanced not; but my wondering eyes
Pass’d onward, o’er the streamlet to survey        35
The tender May-bloom, flush’d through many a hue,
In prodigal variety: and there,
As object, rising suddenly to view,
That from our bosom every thought beside
With the rare marvel chases, I beheld        40
A lady 2 all alone, who, singing, went,
And culling flower from flower, wherewith her way
Was all o’er painted. “Lady beautiful!
Thou, who (if looks, that use to speak the heart,
Art worthy of our trust) with love’s own beam        45
Dost warm thee,” thus to her my speech I framed;
“Ah! please thee hither toward the streamlet bend
Thy steps so near, that I may list thy song.
Beholding thee and this fair place, methinks,
I call to mind where wander’d and how look’d        50
Proserpine, in that season, when her child
The mother lost, and she the bloomy spring.”
  As when a lady, turning in the dance,
Doth foot it featly, and advances scarce
One step before the other to the ground;        55
Over the yellow and vermilion flowers,
Thus turn’d she at my suit, most maiden-like
Valing her sober eyes; and came so near,
That I distinctly caught the dulcet sound.
Arriving where the limpid waters now        60
Laved the greensward, her eyes she deign’d to raise,
That shot such splendour on me, as I ween
Ne’er glanced from Cytherea’s, when her son
Had sped his keenest weapon to her heart.
Upon the opposite bank she stood and smiled;        65
As through her graceful fingers shifted still
The intermingling dyes, which without seed
That lofty land unbosoms. By the stream
Three paces only were we sunder’d: yet,
The Hellespont, where Xerxes pass’d it o’er,        70
(A curb for ever to the pride of man, 3)
Was by Leander not more hateful held
For floating, with inhospitable wave,
’Twixt Sestos and Abydos, than by me
That flood, because it gave no passage thence.        75
  “Strangers ye come; and haply in this place,
That cradled human nature in its birth,
Wondering, ye not without suspicion view
My smiles: but that sweet strain of psalmody,
‘Thou, Lord! hast made me glad,’ 4 will give ye light,        80
Which may uncloud your minds. And thou, who stand’st
The foremost, and didst make thy suit to me,
Say if aught else thou wish to hear: for I
Came prompt to answer every doubt of thine.”
  She spake; and I replied: “I know not how        85
To reconcile this wave, and rustling sound
Of forest leaves, with what I late have heard
Of opposite report.” She answering thus:
“I will unfold the cause, whence that proceeds,
Which makes thee wonder; and so purge the cloud        90
That hath enwrapt thee. The First Good, whose joy
Is only in Himself, created man,
For happiness; and gave this goodly place,
His pledge and earnest of eternal peace.
Favour’d thus highly, through his own defect        95
He fell; and here made short sojourn; he fell,
And, for the bitterness of sorrow, changed
Laughter unblamed and ever-new delight.
That vapours none, exhaled from earth beneath,
Or from the waters, (which, wherever heat        100
Attracts them, follow), might ascend thus far
To vex man’s peaceful state, this mountain rose
So high toward the Heaven, nor fears the rage
Of elements contending; from that part
Exempted, where the gate his limit bars.        105
Because the circumambient air, throughout,
With its first impulse circles still, unless
Aught interpose to check or thwart its course;
Upon the summit, which on every side
To visitation of the impassive air        110
Is open, doth that motion strike, and makes
Beneath its sway the umbrageous wood resound:
And in the shaken plant such power resides,
That it impregnates with its efficacy
The voyaging breeze, upon whose subtle plume        115
That, wafted, flies abroad; and the other land, 5
Receiving, (as ’tis worthy in itself,
Or in the clime, that warms it,) doth conceive;
And from its womb produces many a tree
Of various virtue. This when thou hast heard,        120
The marvel ceases, if in yonder earth
Some plant, without apparent seed, be found
To fix its fibrous stem. And further learn,
That with prolific foison of all seeds
This holy plain is fill’d, and in itself        125
Bears fruit that ne’er was pluck’d on other soil.
  “The water, thou behold’st, springs not from vein,
Restored by vapour, that the cold converts;
As stream that intermittently repairs
And spends his pulse of life; but issues forth        130
From fountain, solid, undecaying, sure:
And, by the Will Omnific, full supply
Feeds whatsoe’er on either side it pours;
On this, devolved with power to take away
Remembrance of offence; on that, to bring        135
Remembrance back of every good deed done.
From whence its name of Lethe on this part;
On the other, Eunoë: both of which must first
Be tasted, ere it work; the last exceeding
All flavours else. Albeit thy thirst may now        140
Be well contented, if I here break off,
No more revealing; yet a corollary
I freely give beside: nor deem my words
Less grateful to thee, if they somewhat pass
The stretch of promise. They, whose verse of yore        145
The golden age recorded and its bliss,
On the Parnassian mountain, of this place
Perhaps had dream’d. Here was man guiltless; here
Perpetual spring, and every fruit; and this
The far-famed nectar.” Turning to the bards,        150
When she had ceased, I noted in their looks
A smile at her conclusion; then my face
Again directed to the lovely dame.
 
Note 1. “To that part.” The west. [back]
Note 2. Most of the commentators suppose that this lady, who in the last Canto is called Matilda, is the Countess Matilda, who endowed the Holy See with the estates called the Patrimony of St. Peter, and died in 1115. But it seems more probable that she should be intended for an allegorical personage. [back]
Note 3. Because Xerxes had been so humbled, when he was compelled to repass the Hellespont in one small bark, after having a little before crossed with a prodigious army, in the hopes of subduing Greece. [back]
Note 4. “Thou, Lord! hast made me glad.”—Psalm xcii. 4. [back]
Note 5. The continent, inhabited by the living, and separated from Purgatory by the ocean, is affected (and that diversely, according to the nature of the soil, or the climate) by a virtue, conveyed to it by the winds from plants growing in the terrestrial Paradise, which is situated on the summit of Purgatory; and this is the cause why some plants are found on earth without any apparent seed to produce them. [back]
 

CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors